• Stephanie Morey-Barry

The Best Teachers Are Planners

This blog post is the second of a blog series called “The Best Teachers are…”


“What should I teach today?”


Nothing scares me more when working as an arts educator, director, or music director than that question. This isn’t just a question in my opinion, it’s a confession. It’s a confession that the teacher did not plan what they were going to teach that day. And when I’m faced with this question, I realize that my co-teacher, director, music director, or colleague didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. They’re winging it.


Sure, all teachers learn with time how to think on their feet. But there is a distinct difference between adjusting your lesson to the climate of the classroom and completely making things up as you go along. This is why the best teachers are planners.


Planning Sets An Example


When a teacher plans what they’re going to teach, they set an example of conscientiousness. They show that they take learning seriously. And when teachers take learning seriously, students do as well.


Often, inexperienced teachers will associate serious learning with stuffiness. They’re forgetting the purpose of teaching, which is to foster an environment conducive to learning, not entertaining. At the end of the day, if serious learning isn’t the center of everything educators do, there really is no point in teaching in the first place.

Some teachers may fear that detailed planning will inhibit their creativity. On the contrary, planning actually allows for infinite creativity! When a lesson is improvised, there is no guarantee that the proper resources will be available or easily accessible at a moment’s notice.


In other instances, teachers may assume that too rigid a plan will inhibit student creativity and freedom. On the contrary, students thrive when they know what to expect. And a well-communicated plan allows students to ponder subject matter and truly experience what they are learning.


Let’s look at an illustration:


In a theater class of 20 students let’s say you want to run a game that requires students to imitate famous fictional characters.


With Planning: You prepare the 20 fictional characters beforehand and easily assign them to your students with flashcards that you keep in a hat. This allows the students more time to imitate their characters and actually participate in the activity, leading to an overall more enjoyable experience. In addition, because students are engaged for the entire lesson, they are less likely to get sidetracked. And with the extra time saved, you even have time for an additional game!


Without Planning: You choose the game on the fly. You scramble to find a piece of paper and then frantically write as many characters as you can think of on the sheet. Without scissors, you are forced to rip up the paper into small crumpled pieces. In the idle time it took you to prepare, your students have become restless, two are wrestling and one is climbing a pole. You yell at the students to behave, destroying the fun and welcoming atmosphere you began class with. When you can't find a hat or bucket to put the character names in, you throw the tiny balls of paper on the floor for the students to choose. Because you took so long to prepare the game, the students have less time to actually participate and class runs over by 5 minutes.


This of course, is an exaggerated illustration. But nevertheless, there is much to learn from this example. The bottom line: Along with being more efficient, planning allows teachers to get the materials they need in order to have the most creative and effective lessons.

Planning Shows You Care


When teachers present a prepared lesson, it shows they care. It shows that they took time to strategize the best activities for the students based on prior learning and current needs. It cultivates a learning environment that feels safe, controlled, and structured. Students feel they can trust an environment like this, and as a result they are more apt to engage in higher-level learning and thinking.


Planning Shows That Not Just Anyone Can Teach


Anyone can wing a single lesson. But an educator thinks of the long game. What are the goals of a unit? What skills should the students acquire? Are there adaptations that will allow all learners to succeed? Are they any materials that can be prepared beforehand that will allow for enhanced learning opportunities?


A single lesson is one of two things: a foundation to future learning events or an entertaining transient that loses relevance over time.


The Importance of Planning in Arts Education


Often, artists are characterized as improvisers. They work well on their feet, both literally and figuratively. And because they are able to do so, the idea of planning seems like something that is an advantage, but not a necessity to teaching. But here’s the harsh reality in arts education: If we are ever going to be taken seriously as a discipline, planning needs to become as important to us as it is for teachers of core subjects.


Arts educators need to take their craft seriously. Teaching the arts is vital work to society at large. It creates more empathic, dynamic, and creative problem-solving members of society. Planning allows this to happen at the highest level.


Conclusion


No matter what subject is taught, all teachers and students benefit from proper planning. It is the heart and soul of the profession. A community of learners thrives in a well-orchestrated lesson!

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